More Men are Killed in Households Each Year Than Women
With a post-pandemic rise in home-based male homicides, Iain Overton argues that confronting domestic abuse against women goes hand in hand with addressing male-on-male violence
The death notice was simple but stark. Paul Hawkesford-Barnes, it read, “died suddenly on 15th March, 2022, aged 57 years.”
For the funeral of this son, husband, father and grandfather, the notice said, please send “family flowers only.”
What stood silent in the announcement was that Paul was also a brother. And that his sibling, Steven, had killed him as he slept.
Perhaps the family did not want Paul’s memorial to be defined by a final act of violence, so they had side-stepped the horror of what was, as the BBC later reported, an “unforgivable” attack that left a “huge hole” in the family’s lives.
But no matter what the family wanted, the fact that Paul was killed by his brother will – terribly – be the defining feature of his wider online memory. A life forever captured in news headlines as ending at the hands of his “crazed thug” brother “battering” him lifeless with a guitar. A truth as stark as the fact that, for men, becoming a victim of murder in a household setting is an often-hidden reality of modern-day Britain.
The data shows that more men are killed each year in domiciliary settings than women.
Society, rightly, is concerned with violence against women in the home. What is less understood, however, is the number of men killed in domestic settings – primarily by other men. In total, between April 2011 and March 2021, Office of National Statistics (ONS) data shows some 1,695 men killed in households in England and Wales. This contrasts with 1,378 women. On average, there were 170 men killed in house-based homicide each year compared to 138 women – an almost 23% difference.
The reason, of course, that more people associate violence in homes with attacks on women is that when you look at who kills women and who kills men (excluding instances where the police did not know the relationship) you find 91% of women were killed by people they know, compared to 71% of men.
More starkly, 53% of women murdered in England and Wales over the last decade were killed by their partner; this compares to just 5% of men. This is the compelling reason behind demands for more to be done about poor conviction rates for violence against women and for better funding, safeguarding and protection measures to be put in place.
But what garners far less debate is why more men than women were killed by their brothers, sons, fathers or other family members. What is also rarely discussed is why far more men were killed by friends or acquaintances in domestic settings – some 1,046 male homicides compared to 138 female deaths over the last decade.
One of the challenges of all of this is data. One of the reasons why we understand so much more about men killing women in the home is because of a determined feminist movement gathering data where it was not being collected before. The same does not apply to men killing men in the home. We do not know how much is gang-related, or the age differences between the perpetrators and the victims, or the killing methods used in the home against men compared to male street violence.
But what is clear is that violence at home is not just a concern for women. Equally – importantly – reporting on rates of male deaths in homes should not be equated with seeking to diminish the dynamics and realities of men’s fatal violence against women.
FACT BOX: Gender, Age and Murder
Means of Homicide
The different ways that men and women are killed reveals terrible truths.
In the last decade, over 40% of male homicides in all settings are from knives and blades (1,667 of 4,062 deaths), compared to 32% of female homicides (597 of 1838 deaths). Both constitute the leading cause of gender deaths.
But men are proportionally more likely to be killed by being hit (21% of men compared to 9% of women) and women are more likely to be strangled (18% of women compared to 7% of men).
Changes with Age
The gender of homicides shifts markedly with age. When you look at babies (under 1), it’s relatively equal: 55% of those killed in the last decade in that age range were baby boys, 45% were girls. It’s 50-50 at age 1-4, too. Between the ages of 16 to 24, there is a marked shift. At that age, 81% of all homicide victims are male – 890 out of 1,096 of all young adult deaths.
Marked proportional dominance of men being killed over women persists through young adulthood and middle age, up to old age. By 65 to 74, some 59% of all victims are men, compared to 88% in the 25-34 age range. The only time more women are killed than men is over the age of 75 – where 59% of victims are female.
Especially because, since 2018, things are getting more acute.
Before the pandemic, numbers of people of both sexes killed in household settings was the same – 158. Since then, home-based male homicides have increased by some 17% (in 2021), whereas the number of female homicides in homes has dropped by 15%. Why this shift is unclear, but the societal reverberations of the Me-Too movement and the condemnation of violence against women cannot be discounted.
Violence against men by men, however, has seen no such movement – and while there has been raised awareness of some forms of violence against men, there has been no rallying cry to end attacks in the home.
This may be because we feel nothing can be done to address such male violence, except perhaps the threat of prison. Ever since Cain killed his brother Abel, there has been a universal expectation that men will be violent. And so our outrage generally focuses upon female victims, not male.
Academia and the press reinforce this framing. For instance, when Dr Gemma Ellis, a specialist in domestic abuse, recently wrote about unconscious bias in the handling of domestic violence, she stated “perpetrators of domestic abuse – abusers – will be referred to as him/men and the abused as her/women”.
Much sympathy should be ascribed to this view. Domestic violence against women in the home is a systemic and societal issue. But how can we truly address male violence against women if we don’t talk about male violence against men in the home? After all, when Steven battered his brother Paul to death, he also attacked his own mother. She survived the attack but tragically died soon afterwards.
This Christmas, families will gather in homes around the country and invariably arguments will flare. Countless women will be hit and humiliated by their partners, but many men will also face violence too. Brothers will strike brothers, fathers their sons, uncles their nephews. And such violence, if unaddressed, endangers morphing over the years to become the thing that horrifies us all: violence by men against women.
In short, if we are to stop women from being killed in the home, we need also to address how male violence can become normalised. And that means focusing on why the number of household male murder victims is on the rise, and why men killing men is all too often so unremarkable as to be of any concern at all.